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Language Learning Stories – interview with
The Wandering Linguist

Suzie Kelsey from New Zealand

Language Learning Stories – interview with
The Wandering Linguist

Welcome back to Language Learning Stories.

What is like to learn three languages? How can you maintain motivation and competency in more than one language?

This Language Learning Stories interview features Suzie Kelsey from The Wandering Linguist.

Suzie is from New Zealand and has learnt Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese. She writes about language learning and travel on her blog and you can find out more about Suzie at The Wandering Linguist.

Read my other Language Learning Stories here!

A BIG thank you to Suzie for her time and honest answers to my questions.

Suzie Kelsey The Wandering Linguist Pic for Lingo Mama Language Learning Stories interview
Suzie Kelsey from The Wandering Linguist

1. You speak Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese – which did you start learning first and why?

I first started learning Spanish, simply because we had to choose a language to study in the first year of high school and that was what most people were doing. I never knew I was going to end up having a knack for it and loving it so much.

2. Why did you decide to start learning Portuguese? And then Chinese?

When I started looking at Portuguese I had already been learning Spanish for five years. I hesitated in starting to learn another foreign language, simply because I didn’t want my Spanish learning to become delayed and I didn’t want to get confused. But eventually I reached fluency in Spanish and I decided to give Portuguese a shot and start self-teaching. A few months after that I started taking Chinese at university.

3. What level would you say you are currently (for all three)?

In Spanish I am at a C1 level. In Portuguese, I am around B1. My relationship with Chinese is complicated but I would say I am around A2 as I can have a basic conversation.

Lingo Mama’s note – C1, B1 and A2 are levels of proficiency used by the Common European Framework of Reference for Language. There are six levels ranging from A1 to C2. C2 is extremely proficient and A1 is a basic user.  If you are interested in knowing more about the European Framework for the Reference of Language – please click here.

4. Where have you studied? Have you done any language learning trips?

I studied Spanish at high school and Chinese at university. Yes, language learning trips are my favourite way to learn a language and basically what my own blog is all about! I’ve written about my experiences learning Spanish in Spain and Portuguese in Brazil. I’ve also practised my Chinese on a trip to Taiwan, and used my Spanish all around South America.

5. What tools and resources do you use/have you relied on?

I love online language dictionaries and conjugators – I find the ones that are specific to certain languages to be better. For example, Yellowbridge dictionary and Pleco are great for Chinese, Word Reference is amazing for Spanish, and is an excellent resource for getting your head around Portuguese verbs.

6. What’s one of the best or most worthwhile investments you have made to do with your language learning?

Definitely my investment in travel! I believe immersion is the best way to refine your language skills and use them in a context. Seeing everyone use the language you are learning is a great motivator and being forced out of your comfort zone and forced to speak to native speakers is a really necessary step to improve.

7. Has your motivation for learning gone up and down over the years? How do you keep motivated?

It definitely wavers, and it varies language by language as well. At the moment, I am feeling most inspired by Portuguese and have less interest for Spanish and Chinese, but for a few years it was the other way around. Now that I’m not studying Chinese at university anymore, I have less motivation to keep learning and keep up my level, although I am trying to maintain it. I used to speak Spanish every day, but now I hardly ever need to use it, so I’m less inspired to learn more. Whereas Portuguese has become more prominent and necessary in my life now than ever before. So it definitely depends on the circumstances I’m living through to determine what I feel like learning.

8. How have you been able to use your language skills in your career or travels?

My blog about language learning has been the main way I have used my languages career-wise. I have found them to be a much greater asset in travelling, however (which is great, because travel is one of my favourite things to do!). Out of 20 countries I have been in, only 3 had a main language I didn’t speak, and it was easy to see the difference knowing the local language makes. I wrote more about that in my article about why you should learn the languages of the countries you visit.

9. What have you learnt about yourself through learning these languages?

I have learned that I am capable of achieving anything I put my mind to. I have learned that there is something I am truly passionate about and truly good at! I have learned that I love studying syntax and grammar and love trying to mimic accents and sounds. I have learned that I can make sounds I didn’t even know were possible! And I have learned to be more confident and reach out to people.

10. What’s the hardest or most challenging thing about learning these three languages?

For me, the hardest thing about learning languages is learning to speak naturally, in a way that a native speaker would normally talk. This includes learning slang words or informalities, idioms and things that are culture specific.

Also, I am a reserved person so forcing myself to speak to others and talk when I am not feeling 100% confident about my ability continues to be a big challenge for me.

11. What has been surprisingly easy about your language learning journey? (If anything?!)

I was surprised how easily I can absorb grammar rules in new languages after learning Spanish. I was surprised how many Portuguese words are the same or similar to Spanish words, which made picking up the basics so much faster.

12. How do you maintain your level in all three languages – do you ever confuse the languages when you speak or read?

I tend to focus more on different languages at different times in my life, so I wouldn’t normally study all 3 in one day (although in the past I have made a schedule to ensure I studied all of them every week).

I don’t tend to confuse them when I read or speak (apart from occasionally throwing in a Spanish word when I don’t know the Portuguese equivalent when speaking Portuguese). I do get them mixed up in my own head, though, like if I am thinking to myself in Spanish it might switch to Portuguese without me even really noticing! Sometimes I construct a sentence in my head using all four of the languages I know. But luckily my brain somewhat sorts itself out when I’m actually speaking.

13. What advice would you give to aspiring Chinese/Spanish/Portuguese language learners?

Chinese – learning to write is very important so try to master that early on – don’t get stuck only being able to type on a computer or a phone!

Spanish – know your verbs. Spend time studying the grammar and understanding how each conjugation changes the meaning. Once you have mastered that, Spanish is easy as pie.

Portuguese – practice making the sounds of the language (especially the nasals) and take note of the irregular plural forms. If you’re coming from Spanish like me, be sure to study the differences between the two languages, especially in the way people talk and expressions they use!


14. If you had your time again, would you learn Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, another language or no language at all?

If I had my time again, I would learn Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese just like I have done, the only difference would be I would have dedicated more time and learned them even better!

15. What are your language plans for the future?

I definitely plan to do more travel and live abroad in countries where my target languages are spoken. In a few years, I want to do my postgraduate studies in linguistics in Brazil. At some point, I will go and live in China as well, perhaps for a year or 6 months. I don’t have any plans to learn a particular language, but if I will travel anywhere else for a prolonged amount of time, I’ll definitely try to learn the basics of those places’ languages too.

Do you have a question for Suzie?  Add your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

If you’d like to suggest someone for me to interview or have a question you’d like me to put forward, get in touch with me!


Until next time,

Lingo Mama


Penelope Wilson


  • Ingrid T

    03.08.2018 at 13:10

    Great interview! I’ll be tackling Portuguese seriously next year, so it was good to hear it hasn’t interfered too much with your Spanish, Suzie. I’ve noted your link to Pimsleur as well as your verb reference site as I’m planning to do three months of self-study before I head to Rio in April to study at a school. Studying Russian recently has made me appreciate how much easier and intuitive Spanish and Portuguese are for me! Still, it’s nice to have a challenge. 🙂

    • pennywilson

      03.08.2018 at 13:53

      Thanks Ingrid! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. Portuguese in Rio sounds amazing! Let me know how your self-study prepares you for learning in Brazil. I have been considering lately whether it is better to do self-study preparation before embarking on a new language learning trip, or dive in without knowing anything! I think the preparation phase might be the key to improving more quickly though!